Zach Wilson, NY Jets, Stats, Lions, 2022
Zach Wilson, New York Jets, Getty Images, Jet X Graphic

New York Jets QB Zach Wilson cannot be gunshy against the Detroit Lions

As we broke down yesterday, the Detroit Lions’ defense is a tougher matchup for New York Jets quarterback Zach Wilson than it might appear at first glance. While Detroit is a low-ranked defense overall, its schematic tendencies are ideal for exploiting Wilson’s weaknesses.

The Lions utilize a lot of man coverage, rely heavily on Cover 1, and love to call aggressive blitzes with 6+ rushers – three things that have caused a lot of trouble for Wilson. In many ways, the Lions’ defensive scheme reminds you of the New England Patriots, Wilson’s greatest nemesis.

How can Wilson succeed against this Detroit defense?

It’s simple: aggressiveness, confidence, and a nothing-to-lose attitude.

Zach Wilson cannot play safe against this team. There are some matchups where operating as a “game manager” would be the ideal mentality for Wilson, but this is not one of them.

The BYU version of Zach Wilson needs to show up on Sunday: The confident, fearless kid who was dropping tight-window dimes all over the field in Provo and looking cool while doing it.

Detroit’s defense is going to dare Wilson to challenge them. The Lions will frequently play one high safety with man coverage on the outside, telling Zach, “Go ahead and try to beat us, because we don’t think you can.”

This is what most teams have done to Wilson this year. Even teams that are not typically a heavy-man coverage defense or heavy-single high defense have shifted to playing that way when facing Wilson. And it has worked nearly every time. Why? Because Wilson has been too afraid to take chances; playing right into their hands.

That can’t happen anymore.

The worst-case scenario has already transpired for Wilson. His back is against the wall. His team’s back is against the wall. Now is the time to let loose – especially against a defense that will invite him to.

Not only will the Lions invite Wilson to be aggressive, but they have given opposing quarterbacks no reason to fear being aggressive against them.

The Lions’ cornerback unit is arguably the worst in the NFL, ranking 32nd with 1.47 yards allowed per coverage snap. Zach has to challenge these corners with confidence – specifically on deep throws.

Detroit’s defense has allowed 25 completions on deep passes (20+ air yards), tied for the third-most in the NFL. Additionally, Detroit is fourth-worst in passer rating allowed (116.3) and EPA per attempt allowed (0.61) on deep pass attempts.

Don’t be afraid of these guys. Go after them. Make them fear you.

Of course, deep shots can only make up a small portion of Wilson’s pass attempts. You can’t throw deep on every play or even close to it. Wilson needs another weapon that can be his bread and butter on a down-to-down basis – something that can be used consistently, but still evokes the aggressive confidence that is necessary to challenge Detroit’s cornerbacks and punish the Lions’ “dare him to beat us” scheme.

The solution: Outside-the-numbers throws.

When not taking deep shots, Wilson should aim to carve up the Lions’ Cover 1 defense by throwing intermediate passes to the outside. Against outside-the-numbers passes that traveled 10-to-19 yards downfield, Detroit is ranked second-worst in passer rating allowed (130.7) and fifth-worst in EPA per attempt allowed (0.62).

Wilson must eagerly seek intermediate routes against one-on-one coverage on the outside. If he has Garrett Wilson or Elijah Moore in one-on-one coverage on the outside with something like an out route, curl route, or comeback route, he needs to trust his guy to win and sling the rock toward the sideline with confidence.

Some may read the suggestions I have laid out in this article and quiver at the idea of Wilson playing an aggressive brand of football, fearing it will lead to disastrous turnovers. They might argue that the Jets should instead ask him to play the safer and more efficient quick-passing role he did against the Bills in Week 9.

Here’s a key reason why that probably won’t work this time around: Stopping quick passes is one of the Lions’ greatest strengths defensively.

The Lions have allowed the third-lowest passer rating (85.5) and fifth-fewest EPA per attempt (0.00) on passes that were released in under 2.5 seconds. They have been even more dominant in this area recently, ranking first in both categories over their 5-1 run since Week 9 (allowing a 64.3 passer rating and -0.30 EPA per attempt).

A safe, quick-passing attack is not the correct way to attack this defense. Detroit is a young and speedy defense that does a good job of rallying to the ball and tackling underneath.

The best way to beat Detroit is by relying on longer-developing concepts, placing the onus on Detroit’s league-worst cornerbacks to hold up in downfield coverage.

On passes that were released more than 2.5 seconds after the snap, the Lions have allowed the highest passer rating (103.0) and second-most EPA per attempt (0.12).

Yes, the Jets’ offensive line has struggled recently, but New York has to trust its offensive line to hold up against a Detroit defensive line that is not overly intimidating.

The Lions are 17th in pressure rate (22.1%) and 25th in sack rate (5.4%). Their interior pass rush is particularly poor, as Detroit’s defensive tackle unit ranks 27th with a 5.8% pressure rate. Interior pressure is the greatest deterrent to deep passes, as it eliminates room for the QB to step up, so the Jets’ interior offensive line should be able to win its matchup and give Wilson the room he needs to launch bombs.

Even if the Jets do struggle a little bit in pass protection, Wilson needs to take a page out of Mike White’s book and be willing to take hits in the pocket if that’s what needs to be done to get off a good throw.

Stay poised and hang tight in the pocket. Be confident. Be aggressive. Challenge the Lions deep.

That is how Wilson will succeed in this one.

Game managing is not going to cut it this time – not against this defense and not against this high-octane Lions offense that may require the Jets offense to keep up in a shootout.

It’s time for Zach Wilson to air it out.

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Michael Nania is one of the best analytical New York Jets minds in the world, combining his statistical expertise with game film to add proper context to the data. Nania scrapes every corner, ensuring you know all there is to know about everyone from the QB to the long snapper. Nania's Numbers, Nania's QB Grades, and Nania's All-22 give fans a deeper and more well-rounded dive into the Jets than anyone else can offer. Email: michael.nania[at]jetsxfactor.com - Twitter: @Michael_Nania
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Jets71
Jets71
1 month ago

I’m with you, I think he needs to let it rip. Although I have fear, I heard it in his responses this week. “I have to make the best play for the team, ground it, throw it away whatever..” He is so focused on make the best “safe play”, it’s in his head. Look, if he’s “the guy” he’s got to be able to turn off the outside noise but basically his entire Jets’ career comes down to Sunday, if you read the headlines, twitter and chat boars. Unless of course, he plays reasonable well and they win, then it will be “nice” but we want more. Zach needs time to breath and let loose. This is Seabiscuit, he needs to learn to be a QB again.

Until it’s ok for him to have a bad throw, he’ll be this way. He’s got to take some shots, and try to make some tight throws. There is a huge difference between the picks he threw vs NE and trying to hit a deep ball or a tight window on a deep in.

Not trying to take the burden off Zach’s shoulders but I’m less than impressed with Calabrese. He may be a good coach etc. but he’s charged with developing a young QB and the guy is going backwards. I am going on record, if Zach doesn’t look any better, then not only is it on Zach but they need to start shopping for a proven NFL QB developer.

Turn him loose!

Bird9
Bird9
1 month ago

Is it safe to assume that LeFleur has someone on staff who gets paid to read this site?

dudizt
dudizt
1 month ago
Reply to  Bird9

I have my resume on stand by

vnick12
vnick12
1 month ago

Sounds like Mims time…

Matt Galemmo
Matt Galemmo
1 month ago
Reply to  vnick12

I’m going to disagree on this take. Mims doesn’t separate, which, considering his speed, is a small surprise, and doesn’t win contested catches, which is a big surprise. Against man, I want to see Wilson and Moore carve them up with separation, specifically in corners and outs. I’d even maybe argue Smith’s elite speed makes him a better weapon against man than Mims at this point.

vnick12
vnick12
1 month ago
Reply to  Matt Galemmo

Agree based on how Mims has been used re: separation. Would like to see how he does utilizing his 6’3″ frame and 4.3 speed on go routes similar to Robby Anderson. Lafleur doesn’t seem to like calling vertical routes and I think he should adjust.

Matt Galemmo
Matt Galemmo
1 month ago
Reply to  vnick12

You know, I think you’re right. Mims has looked good on the very few go route opportunities he’s had. Using him that way could net something in this game.

Rivka Boord
Editor
1 month ago
Reply to  Matt Galemmo

Mims still hasn’t separated, even on go routes. He had one out-and-up where he did a nice job running the route but Zach didn’t throw it to him because of the safety over the top. (He also got wide open on a blown coverage vs. New England, but that was bad defense rather than anything done by Mims.)

Either way, I don’t think any QB should trust a guy who does not know how to catch with his hands. Even the balls that Mims has caught this year have been caught with his body. Now he’s jumping to catch the balls, too.

Go to Wilson on a double move. Go to Moore on comebacks and digs. Go to Conklin (yes, despite his wooden hands, he can beat man coverage) on seam routes. Don’t go to Mims or Berrios.